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Hypocrisy and the Characteristics of Hypocrites

By: Shukrullah Hassan Beigi

What Is Hypocrisy?
Imam Ali (AS) has said:
"I advise you, `O' creatures of Allah, to fear Allah and I warn you of the hypocrites...." (Nahjul-Balagha, Sermon No. 194)
Literally speaking, "hypocrisy" means pretending to possess a virtuous character or moral and religious beliefs and principles that one does not actually possess. Although hypocrisy is one of the most condemnable characteristics, it can be observed that this tendency of pretense is found to exist only among human beings, in a way, reflecting on the natural innate attraction of humans towards admirable qualities that bring him closer to perfection. This also reflects on the fact that only human beings are gifted with the inclination and the potential to reach perfection and also that animals do not possess this urge to portray a false superior image since they are devoid of the concepts of growth, progress and perfection. Thus we could go on to understand that although the act of hypocrisy is in itself very harmful for both an individual as well as for society in general, the flip side of the urge to portray oneself as superior and better, is only a negative, incorrect and deviated way of satisfying one's inner urge to possess superior human virtues and values.
Moreover, there seems to be a kind of co-relation between man's social progress and the growth of a tendency towards hypocrisy. Social statistics indicate that as man has advanced materially and intellectually, he has somehow become more complex and pretentious. Earlier human beings were well-known for their simplicity and their authenticity and all of us have observed that members of materially advanced societies exhibit more hypocrisy. In fact we could even say that the more man becomes socially conscious, the more he is inclined towards hypocrisy. We can clearly study this phenomenon by observing child behavior vis-a-vis adult behavior. A child on a dining table, does not hesitate to eat to his fill of whatever he likes and enjoys, and he may even go to the extremes of demanding for whatever he wants by crying and yelling. Whereas grown-ups tend to suppress themselves quite often in order to make the right impressions.
Language seems to be a very powerful tool used by the hypocrites of this century and we find them in today's society, blatantly misguiding and misleading unsuspecting people in the name of freedom, human rights, mutual aid and the like. In fact, the colonial powers used this tool most cunningly and tactfully, establishing footholds in their colonies and under the pretexts of bringing in growth and development, siphoned them dry of all their national wealth and dignity.
Thus in short, we could say that as man progresses, his tendency towards hypocrisy increases too.
Although in Islamic terminology, the term "hypocrite" (munafiq) is normally used to refer to people who claim to be Muslims in public even though they are in reality unbelievers. However, in general, this term includes any form of duality in thought, word, deed, etc., in people, including believers.
There are three qualities in a man that make him a hypocrite, even if he fasts, prays and considers himself to be a Muslim. A hypocrite is:
1- One who betrays trust.
2- One who lies while talking.
3- One who promises and breaches his promise.
Certainly such people have a trace of hypocrisy in them. Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (AS) is reported to have said:
"Riya and pretension is a bitter and ominous tree whose fruit is nothing but hidden shirk and whose roots are hypocrisy." (Nahjul Fasahah, p.2, No.7)

Hypocrisy As Viewed by the Qur'an:
Since hypocrisy is more dangerous than infidelity, thus the Qur'an has discussed hypocrisy more than infidelity. In its Chapter 13, the Glorious Qur'an refers to hypocrisy and hypocrites in various forms. Besides, the Chapter 63 of the Qur'an has been named as `Munafeqeen' (Hypocrites) in order to indicate the importance of paying due attention to this abominable tendency.
The fact that the Qur'an talks about the hypocrites time and again, is because it intends to warn the believers against the plots of hypocrites who may infiltrate among the believers. It may be inferred here that the issue of hypocrisy was not confined to the early stages of Islam. Hypocrites are present at all times in all societies and pretend to be one with the Muslims while they are waiting to strike from the back as soon as they find an opportunity. Thus, hypocrites are even more dangerous to society than known enemies, since it is not easy to spot, recognize or distinguish these internal enemies from the other members of society. It is for this very reason that Islam and Muslims have suffered the most at the hands of the hypocrites. And again it is for this very reason that the Qur'an has attacked them severely, even more than the enemy. Here, let us take a note of the following Qur'anic verses:
"They are the enemy, therefore, beware of them; may Allah destroy them, whence they are turned back." (63:4)
"Now surely they themselves are the mischief makers, but they do not perceive." (2:12)
"Surely the hypocrites are in the lowest stage of the fire, and you shall not find a helper for them." (4:145)

Exposing the Chief of the Hypocrites
Hypocrisy and hypocrites first appeared in the history of Islam when the Prophet of Islam (SAW) migrated from Mecca to Medina and strengthened the pillars of Islam. Under such conditions, it was impossible for the unbelievers to express their animosity towards Islam. Thus, in order to carry out their destructive plans and plots, they pretended to embrace Islam.
Abdullah ibn-e Ubai was the most prominent of the people of Medina, before the arrival of the Prophet (SAW) in this city. The people of Medina had agreed to appoint him as their king in order to finish the long-existing feud between the two tribes of `Aus' and `Khazraj'. While the preparation for his kingship were in progress, a group of people from Medina who were in contact with Mecca, met the Noble Prophet (SAW) and after embracing Islam, they requested him to send someone to Medina to propagate Islam. The Messenger of Allah (SAW) appointed Mus'ab Ibn-e Umair for the task and sent him to Medina. A large number of the people of Medina thus embraced Islam thereby creating favorable conditions for the migration of the noble Messenger of Allah (SAW) to Medina. Thus the Prophet's (SAW) migration changed the course of the history of Medina and Abdullah Ibn-e Ubai's hopes for becoming the king of Medina were destroyed completely. Therefore, he became very spiteful towards Islam, however, since most of the people of Medina had embraced Islam, he pretended to have converted to Islam. But, Islam had never really touched his heart.
Abdullah Ibn-e Ubai never waged an open war against the Prophet (SAW) and never started a civil war. Instead he resorted to creating internal disturbances within the various sections of society. He remained alive for years after the Prophet's (SAW) arrival in Medina and died during the Prophet's (SAW) lifetime. After his death, the following Qur'anic verse was revealed by Almighty Allah:
"And never offer prayer for anyone of them who dies and do not stand by his grave; surely they disbelieve in Allah and His Apostle and they shall die in transgression." (9:84)
The above verse clearly referred to the likes of Abdullah ibn-e Ubai and all the major interpreters of the Qur'an undisputedly consider him as one of the biggest hypocrites of all times.
Let us now review the incidents which go on to prove the evil intentions in the heart of Abdullah ibn-e Ubai:
1. It has been recorded that at the time of a war with the Romans, Abdullah ibn-e Ubai and a group of hypocrites as well as their allies made a separate camp in a place called `Zobab', that was separate from the Prophet's (SAW) camp and did not accompany him. Just one day before the outbreak of the holy war (jihad), Abdullah ibn-e Ubai returned to Medina along with his companions saying:
"Muhammad wants to fight the Romans in this hot weather and far away from Medina. He thinks fighting the Romans is like child's play. I swear by Allah that I can see his companions being taken captives tomorrow."
2. Prior to the Battle of Uhud, the Prophet (SAW) gathered the people of Medina in the mosque and said:
"If you all agree we will stay in Medina and leaving the enemy put from where they arrive. If they stay there they will be in trouble and if they attack Medina we shall fight with them."
Abdullah ibn-e Ubai too said the same thing. However, the young people who had not participated in the Battle of Badr and were looking forward for martyrdom (shahadat) disagreed and they said:
"O Prophet of Allah! Take us to the enemy lest they think we are afraid."
As a result of their insistence, the Prophet (SAW) decided to move out and left Medina with 1,000 people on a Friday.
Abdullah ibn-e Ubai returned to Medina, half way to Uhud, taking with him one-third of the people, saying: "The Prophet (SAW) listened to the youth and ignored our suggestions. O people! We do not know as to why we have to put ourselves to swords."
Abdullah ibn-e Amr ibn-e Haram (from the Bani Salameh tribe) followed them and said: "Fear Allah and do not leave the Prophet (SAW) and your tribe alone in this war."
They replied: "If we knew that there would be a war we would not have abandoned you. However, we know that there will not be any war." ("Tarikh-e Payambar-e Islam", Dr. Muhammad Ayali, p. 311)
3. Ibn-e Ishaq narrates that during the Battle of Bani Mostalaqi, Jahjah ibn-e Masoud Ghaffari and Sanan ibn- Wabayahni began a fight over water. Sanan asked the Ansars for help and Jahjah went to Mohajers. A war was about to take place, but some people from the Mohajers and Ansars mediated and ended the fight.
Abdullah ibn-e Ubai took advantage of the situation and tried to instigate the people of his tribe and said: "They are trying to be our masters in our own land. We have brought it on ourselves. I swear by God that our position has become like the saying that says: `breed a dog to eat up yourself.'"
"I swear by God that when we return to Medina we, the nobles of Medina, shall throw these wretched Mohajers out. You have brought it upon yourselves. You supported them and shared with them whatever you had. I swear by God that if you had not received them, they would have gone elsewhere."
Zaid ibn-e Arqram reported the incident to the Prophet (SAW). Omar was present and requested the Prophet (SAW) to order Ebad ibn-e Bashar to kill Abdullah ibn-e Ubai. The Prophet (SAW) said: "How can I issue such an order? People shall then say that Muhammad kills his companions!"
Then the Prophet (SAW) ordered the troops to march forward. Asid came to him and enquired about this untimely move. The Prophet (SAW) said: "Don't you know about the turmoil which Abdullah ibn-e Ubai has created?"
Abdullah ibn-e Ubai came to know about Zaid ibn- Arqram reporting to the Prophet (SAW) and went to him (SAW) and swore that he had not uttered these words. Since he was respected among his tribesmen, they came to his support and said: "Perhaps this boy (Zaid ibn-e Arqram) is making a mistake and does not remember Abdullah's words well enough!"
Thereupon life became difficult for Zaid and everyone scorned him. However, soon thereafter, the Chapter "Al-Munafeqoon" was revealed to the Noble Prophet (SAW), which says:
"They say: `If we return to Medina, the mighty will surely drive out the meaner therefrom; and to Allah belongs the might and to His Apostle and to the believers, but the hypocrites do not know. (63:8)

Accusing the Wife of the Prophet (SAW):
Once, while returning from Bani Mostalaq, the Prophet (SAW) camped at a place for a while and in the middle of the night, he ordered his companions to move towards Medina. Aisha, the wife of the Prophet (SAW) left the camp to relieve herself and on return she realized that she had lost her valuable necklace and began to search for it and was thus left behind. She joined the Prophet (SAW) after a delay, along with Safwan who was bringing along the people who were left behind.
The hypocrites waged accusations on Aisha in order to defame the Prophet (SAW) until the following Qur'anic verses were finally revealed:
"Surely they who concocted the lie are a party from among you. Do not regard it an evil to you; nay, it is good for you. Every man of them shall have what he has earned of sin; and (as for) him who took upon himself the main part thereof, he shall have a grievous chastisement. Why did not the believing men and the believing women, when you heard it, think well of their own people, and say: `This is an evident of falsehood? (24:11-12)
In this way the Glorious Qur'an awakened the Muslims and the faithful and warned them against those who pretend to having accepted Islam only in order to pursue their dangerous designs. The Qur'an exposed to the people that Ubai's move was not an unintentional one but was in fact a calculated move with the aim of defaming the Prophet (SAW), that was aborted.
These verses came to be revealed only 40 days after the above-mentioned incident, putting things in their right perspective. However, God alone knows what the Prophet (SAW) and his close companions went through during those 40 days of false accusation and speculation.
The outcome of this incident of course was to the best interests of the Muslims in many ways. This is because it revealed to the Muslim society, its hidden enemies, as well as made the position of the true believers clear. Moreover, it taught the Muslims the lesson that in times of peace, true believers and the hypocrites are undistinguishable from one another. However, the moment the society faces any kind of uncertainty or hardship, the hypocrites lay the biggest blows on Islam. Thus, the hidden evil within the society is laid clearly unexposed. ("Aashnayee ba Qur'an", by Martyr Ayatollah Morteza Mutahhari, Vol. 4)

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